My Shoulders Feel all Bouncy

I’d forgotten how great it feels. Its been a while.

You see, I am training to carry a full pack, as I am going to walk the Jatbula Trail at the end of June. Its a six day walk, and I need to train up to an 18kg pack – well at least 16kgs at a stretch. I am up to 14 – not too bad all things considered, but still a way to go with only 6 weeks before the trip. So I was pretty excited tonight, when after taking off my pack, instead of collapsing into a small heap – my shoulders felt all bouncy.

For anyone out there who has hiked with a full pack, you will know what I am talking about. This is when you know you’ve turned a corner, your body is getting stronger and you are getting used to carrying the weight. Once you get to this point, you are so used to walking with your pack that when you take it off, you feel as light as a feather. Your shoulders feel like they could almost float away – kind of bouncy. Despite having walked with a pack for an hour or two, you may even be tempted to go for a jog. Maybe.

It got me thinking. Sometimes the best things in life sneak up on us. We are toiling away, maybe feeling like we are just going through the motions, trying to stay focused on an end goal. In the day to day of it all, the end goal can start to look fuzzy, and teasingly out of reach.

Somehow without our noticing, all those little steps have been counting. Just when we least expect it, when we are distracted and slugging away at our day, we notice that something has shifted. We realise that we are actually getting there, making progress.

A similar thing happened with me and food lately. As I have been slowly ramping up my exercise, I have also been trying to eat healthily in preparation for my trip. I noticed that my clothes were feeling a bit loose the other day, so I decided to weigh myself. I was very excited to find that I was at the low side of my healthy weight (well actually 1 kilo under – but don’t tell my mum). So this means that not only do my shoulders feel bouncy, I can sit on my couch and eat a full tub of yogurt after dinner – guilt free.

To the victor goes the spoils.

As we all head into another week, its hard not to feel a bit ‘here we go again’. Its nice to be reminded that all the little steps do add up. When you least expect it, they will creep up on you and put a smile on your face.

You just have to keep walking.


How do I sum up Cambodia in a few hundred words?

It is impossible of course. In one week I dipped my toe into the assault on the senses that is Cambodia. I laughed, I cried, I was amazed and inspired.

The smells and streets of Phnom Penh reminded me of Mexico. A vague smell of urine and rotting food, broken footpaths, and lots of activity. You walk down the middle of the street amongst the motor bikes, bicycles, air conditioned four wheel drives, and people. People live out in the open, amongst each other.

The traffic in Cambodia is surprisingly quiet. No constant horns that you get in so many chaotic cities. But then, Phnom Penh was not chaotic. There is constant movement, constant activity, but in a quietly organised way. The traffic weaves gently around itself, in an out of each other, never stopping, flowing.

It was hot. Sweat would drip down my back and down my legs as I walked. The city was quiet in the middle of the day, everyone hid away from the heat. As the evening breeze cooled the day, people crept out, the city buzzing again by nightfall.

Food Court Phnom Penh Style

Streets of Phnom Penh

Where did that breeze come from? As a Sydney sider, I associated a cool breeze with the ocean, yet we were not near the ocean. How does that work? Where does a cool breeze come from if not the ocean? Mmm.

There was a very particular atmosphere that made me think of Budapest in 1991. 1991 was a time when Hungary had only just come out from under the cloud of communism. The city was poor, tired and struggling – yet at the same time there was this surge of energy. Buildings being renovated, new businesses springing up. Old people determined and resilient, young people daring to hope.

Renovating Phnom Penh

I learnt so much on this trip. So much about Cambodia, its history, and so much about myself. Cambodia’s recent history is so violent and so far reaching, there is no person there unaffected. Every family lost close friends and relatives, every person experienced personal suffering. I heard this from our guides, who had the tough task of sharing the Sad Story. A story that there is no right way to tell, no way to explain.

Yet somehow, life goes on. People go on to love, have children, build dreams. It is amazing what people can endure.

They endure, as do their ancient recipes, stories and dances. I ate Amok, a delicious type of curry, almost every night. I watched giggling teenagers perform their traditional dances for the tourists.

The ancient history is so enchanting, so full of richness and beauty it takes your breath away. Temples in the jungle seem impossibly fantastical, as if a childhood storybook was opened and its contents laid out before you.

Cambodia was impossible to just observe. It had to be tasted, touched and smelt – swum in.

Cambodia reminded me of everywhere, but nowhere. It stays with me. Part of me is still flying around the streets of Phnom Penh on a Tuk-Tuk.

I sense I will be hearing Cambodia’s lessons for some time to come.

Cambodia : There Be Dragons

We all have our demons. Mine are small and reptilian, and scuttle along the ground, through cracks and along ceilings.

Last night I was sitting at the FCC (Foreigners Club Cambodia), a beautiful old colonial building overlooking the Phnom Penh waterfront, enjoying a Tiger Beer and some garlic prawns. I noticed a quick movement above my head. I looked up – on the wall next to me was a gecko. I jumped involuntarily and started feeling all over myself as if to check that the lizard was in fact on the wall, and not somehow simultaneously crawling through my clothes.

I have a lizard phobia. Specifically a phobia of small lizards. Larger lizards I’m not really fond of either, but there is part of me that would prefer to be in a room with goanna than a gecko.

So – this lizard on the wall next to me kind of freaked me out. I calmed down, told myself: Its just one, its not moving. Finish your beer, and look away.

So I turned my chair around to look the other way – to see another gecko on the wall ahead of me. Oh God. Oh damn. Oh —-! Ok – sip beer, deep breaths. I checked that my bag was gecko free and the zipper firmly shut. I check myself again, down my top, feel up and down my legs.

I forced myself to look out over the water and not at the walls. It was ok. It was just stupid lizards. I had faced this in Mexico, even had to sleep in a room once where I knew there was a gecko roaming around somewhere. Admittedly I had to get quite drunk, and even then it didn’t work particulalry well.

I was reminded that this is why I never backpacked around Asia. I’d actually forgotten that that was why. I was terrified of being stuck somewhere where I had to be in rooms, or even sleep in rooms, with geckos. I had even heard stories of them falling off the ceiling and into people’s hair.

How ridiculous. To let this tiny – even rather pretty – creature, rule me like that.

I took a deep breath and turned around, glancing up at the ceiling.

Oh-My-God. In one glance I had seen at least 10 geckos on the ceiling. And they were not just sitting there, they were moving all around the place. Ok, now I was feeling pretty shaky. Just sip your beer, I thought, then you can get back to the hotel.

Oh god – if there were this many here, surely there were some in the hotel? I got shaky, I really felt like crying now.

Ok, the hotel room is air conditioned (Lizards are cold blooded, this is a good deterrant. I know these things.), spotless and the windows shut. Oh shit – I opened the window a bit this afternoon. Oh shit – oh shit. Ok calm.

The lizard closest to me started to move down the wall. I grabbed my bag and practically ran to pay my bill. A few people looked – oh well. As I was paying my bill I could see yet more crawling on the walls towards the door. It took some effort not to run.

I jumped in a tuk-tuk back to the hotel – after checking the ceiling and the seat – no lizards.

I got to the hotel – not a lizard in sight in the foyer. Good sign.

And then my room. I checked as best I could – no lizards. I stripped off and checked myself. No lizards.

Ok. Deep breaths. Its ok – no lizards.  

My mind started on the ‘what ifs’. What if there are lizards in the hotel in Siam Riep? What if… No point in that. I will just have to face my demons as they come, one by crawling one.

As I calmed down, I realised – its time. Time to be free of this. I have faced far worse and survived. I can free myself of this.

So, if I do face any more geckos this trip, they will be the first step in my facing my phobia. And when I get back, I will get some help to free me of this once and for all.

Time to slay the dragons.

Unwanted Adventures

Some adventures we search for, others come unbidden.

Life is full of challenge, sometimes more than we think we can bear. We have daily challenges; dealing with work, family and all that entails; the ebbs and flows of our friendships. Then there are challenges that rock us to our core.

Nothing ever prepares us for the death of a loved one, struggling with serious illness or the end of a relationship. Things happen that shake the very foundations of our life, that plunge us into sadness beyond what we had imagined was possible. And at some point they happen to all of us, one way or another.

So why would we go and search for more? Why seek adventure and add to the huge challenge that life already is?

Because on some level we know that it is these challenges, bidden or unbidden, that makes us who we are. They are what life is really all about. It is by living through them and growing from the experience that we really live.

That is why we instinctively admire and look up to people who push themselves to their limits, break boundaries – seek out the adventure. When we look at them, we can see that the adventures they seek somehow prepare them for the unwanted adventures that we all face.

You may have seen in the press recently that a world renowned adventurer, Lincoln Hall, passed away. Lincoln was famous for surviving a night on Everest after being pronounced dead in 2006. It makes his death from cancer now seem bitterly unfair. A story that makes many people question the meaning in his survival, the meaning in all of our lives.

I was looking at some video footage of Lincoln Hall. This was a man that was truly loved. Clearly loved by his family, but also loved and admired by the many people he touched in his life. His untimely death makes it only more clear that his life was one well lived.

There is a part of us that wonders why Lincoln felt compelled to embark on such a dangerous challenge as climbing Mount Everest in the first place. Why did he?

Why do any of us search for adventure? Because we all know on some level that we are here to contribute, to be the best person we can be. And to do that we must stretch ourselves beyond what we thought possible.

I remember hearing the Dalai Lama speak about suffering and challenge. I can’t remember his exact words, but he talked about how important our attitude and perspective is. The analogy he used was something like: Imagine if someone forced you to run a marathon against your will. It would be the most horrid torture, a real cruelty. Yet if we choose to run a marathon of our own free will, if we see it as a challenge we have chosen, one we train for – it is a completely different experience. It is an experience of courage, testing both our physical and our inner strength.

So the way I see it, the braver you are, the more you challenge yourself, the more you embrace life with both hands and rub yourself in the dirt to know you are alive – the stronger you will be.

The unwanted adventures come anyway.

Seek out your own, and build an arsenal to face them when they do.

Amazing Wild Gorilla Encounter

Ever wonder how animals see us? Are they curious about us? Watch this.

Touched by a Wild Mountain Gorilla (Non HD version)

It’s incredible isn’t it? I haven’t known anyone see this video and not be moved. It got me thinking – why is this so amazing to watch?

Maybe it touches the most primal part of us. The curious child that is in awe at finding out that there are all sorts of amazing things out there, beyond us. It is a mirror to our world, and a window into theirs – the gorilla’s world.

And with the window open, we are drawn in. We want to experience it, understand it, be a part of it. And amazingly, for a few brief moments – the man in this video is.

Some people think that all of the constant recording and photographing of the world today takes away some of the magic. We truly seem to live in a world where if there is no photo or picture taken, then nothing has happened.

This video reminds me that there is so much more to our world than we can ever imagine. So many things undocumented, so many subtleties and nuances we will never understand. And thank goodness for that.

Imagine a world where there was nothing left to learn, nothing left to explore?

Walking in the Rain

I have a confession to make. I quite like the rain.

This summer there have been a lot of rain whingers. And from time to time, I may have been one of them. But I think we can now all say that we are sick of hearing people say that they are sick of the rain. We get it. We are here too. Its raining – again.

This summer I have felt a bit like I’ve been living in the UK again. Its reminded me of those long stretches of grey, day after day. How the sky seemed to hang low, and it felt like someone had the sun constantly on dim.  I remember actually craving to have the sun on my skin. The absolute joy waking up one morning to sunlight, real sunshine – pouring right into the window onto me in my bed. I lay there trying literally to soak it up.

But that’s just the thing – it never really gets like that here. We rarely have a week without a really sunny day. Even during this rainy summer, the sun usually still comes out in between for a bit.

The thing is, Australians seem to think the world should be in eternal sunshine. Its a nice thought. When its sunny, its true that its easier to get out of bed, you feel like you want to get outside and ‘do something’. Glebe foreshore is full of people walking up and down, jogging and cycling when the sun it out.

But that’s just the thing. Sometimes its nice not to rush, for the world to feel quiet and gentle. When its raining outside, it somehow enfolds you, so that you feel just right curled up on the couch with a book.

Because I’m doing my 10,000 steps a day this week, I had to venture out in the rain today. I was almost on my own walking along the foreshore, apart from the odd walker like myself. It was so peaceful, the gentle sound of the rain on my umbrella cushioning the city noises, softening the day. The water was a beautiful silvery grey, calm with no boats rushing up and down. I didn’t have to dodge dogs, joggers, children on scooters or cyclists. I felt I had the world to myself just for a little while.

I like the rain. It gives us permission to do all those things we feel slightly guilty about on a sunny day. Watching old movies, re-reading Harry Potter, sipping hot chocolate or having a long hot bath.

So please excuse me. There is a couch and a book waiting, and its raining outside.